Union Academy

The other Keystone Sports playoff team

Photo: Paul Rudderow

The Philadelphia Union have been the Keystone Sports’ soccer team most obviously involved in postseason playoffs this November. But they have not been the only one.

Union Development Squad defeated Queensboro FC II at Queens College in New York City last Sunday afternoon 3-1 on goals from Bajung Darboe, Conor Clair, and Luciano Sanchez to qualify for the United Premier Soccer League’s national round of 32, in the match that also serves as the UPSL’s Northeast – American conference’s playoff final.

UDS will play fellow Northeast – American conference national qualifier New Jersey Alliance this weekend on Saturday, November 12th at 4 PM in Pleasant Valley, NY at Pathfinder Academy. It will be a re-match from the last day of the regular season when UDS beat New Jersey Alliance FC 3-0 to claim third place the day after they had beaten NYC Haiti United SC 2-0.

Were UDS to beat NJ Alliance and become conference champions, they would play the very next day, Sunday the 13th at 3:00 PM at PathFinder against either the DMV North conference’s WHC Alliance of Laurel, MD or the New England conference’s Santa Cruz FC of Lowell, MA . (PSP is grateful to Union II head coach Marlon LeBlanc and through him UDS’s staff for their help deciphering the possible future schedule.)

The Union technical staff clearly values playoff-level competition as an evaluation and development tool for its older amateur players.

The available amateurs from Union II have been playing down with UDS to enhance the side’s chances of playoff advancement. They have been Luciano Sanchez (S/M), Marcello Mazzola (S/M), Bajung Darboe (M), Anthony Ramirez (M), Logan Oliver (DM), Luke Martelli (LB), Devin Stopek (LCB), Frank Westfield (RCB), Noe Uwimana (RB), Andrew Rick (GK), and when available Marcos Zambrano (S).

Who is UDS, and why does the side exist? 

An amateur side discussed on Keystone’s Union website only infrequently , Union Development Squad was founded roughly fourteen months ago in the fall of 2021 to replaces the discontinued MLS NEXT U-19 team.

UDS is coached by the Philadelphia Union’s original attacking midfielder Fred, aka, Fred da Silva. Since retirement he has had a successful run of assignments working for Tommy Wilson in the Union’s Academy. In mid-summer 2021 he left being Marlon LeBlanc’s top assistant with Union II for the UDS assignment, filling a niche created to satisfy an emerging academy need.

The evolution of the Philadelphia Union’s youth player development philosophy created the need. The evolution corresponds exactly to the organization’s three changes in Sporting Director (or equivalent) from Nick Sakewicz to Earnie Stewart to Ernst Tanner.

The cogent detail is that Tanner shifted the chronological focus of professional candidate selection from Stewart’s to be even younger, to ages 17 to 20 or perhaps 21. Consequently there is no longer a Union Academy U-19 squad, and there is a need to provide development opportunities for seniors who are no longer candidates for the organization’s path to the pros.

The ethos of academy life demands that all students share developmentally challenging soccer opportunities so that everyone is growing as much and as fast as possible, athletically s well as academically.

Everyone in the schoolhouse from the youngest freshman to the oldest senior must be competing hard but  supportively against his peers to play for a competitive team in a developmentally challenging, growth stimulating environment. That mutually supportive competition keystones the spirit of brotherhood that is central to Academy Founder Richie Graham’s vision of what makes his school tick. Union Development Squad fills the need for those amateurs whose U17 eligibility is gone.

By practical necessity in its first year UDS played an independent schedule. The year was a bit chaotic and the competition was uneven. But the organization  was seeking a new growth medium, and it has found the United Premier Soccer League’s Premier Division.

UPSL is a league of amateurs regionally organized with high quality play that provides the Union Academy with easier integration into academy academic life, i. e.,  with lessened time loss and lowered expenses emanating from travel. Such integrating, lessening, and lowering are not priorities for Major League Soccer’s amateur development league MLS NEXT, a program tightly tied into direct pathways towards first-division professional play.

The United Premier Soccer League is UDS’s new home

 Eight other MLS organizations participate in UPSL in 2022.

UPSL aggregates regional conferences of fourth division amateur teams from all over the country into a national league organization. UPSL has four levels: Premier, Division 1, Women, and Youth. Union Development Squad competes in the Premier division. Counting all regions at all levels it totals around 400 teams presently.

Mexican fashion, the league plays two different seasons in one calendar year, Fall and Spring. The Mexican pattern provides greater flexibility to accommodate Academy seniors transitioning to NCAA institutions should they choose to matriculate early.

Twelve Pennsylvania amateur clubs participate at three of the different UPSL division levels.

Premier Division 1 Women

Lancaster Elite


Allentown United U 23


Williamsport City Lions


Pennsylvania Prime FC


CD Catrachos PA


Philadelphia Lone Star FC


Philadelphia Lone Star U23


Philadelphia Union UDS


Valley Stars FC


Pittsburgh City United FC


Williamsport City Lions FC


Pittsburgh SC



UDS’s fall 2022 playoff path
  • In UDS’s first playoff match on Thursday, November 3rd at Chase Fieldhouse’s outdoor field in Wilmington, DE they defeated sixth place Philadelphia Lone Star FC by a 5-0 score (seeing off a 4-1 season-opening defeat to Lone Star back on the 28th of August).
    • Sanchez had a brace.
    • The other three scorers were Ritter Sundby (M), Ramirez, and Uwimana.
    • Defender Robert Myrick had a red card.
  • On Sunday November 6th UDS advanced away to second place Queensboro FC II who had beaten UDS 5-0 in the regular season on the 9th of October. UDS won as detailed above. Queensboro had been a national semifinalist last spring.


  1. Very interesting, thanks for bringing us this detailed coverage and insight to this level of the Union organization.

  2. This is great insight into the academy, thank you!

  3. I had no clue. Thanks for educating us, Tim!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


%d bloggers like this: